Tag Archives: Asteroid

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique: “What Killed The Dinosaurs, And How Do We Know?”

Saturday – November 15, 9:30-11:00am

Milton J Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology – Syracuse, NY

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What killed the dinosaurs? The question remains as fascinating as ever, conjuring fantastical images of death and destruction. Most kids these days will tell you the answer – an asteroid or comet killed the dinosaurs. But how do we know this? What are the lines of evidence that scientists have amassed over the years to convince us of what sounds like science fiction? We will discuss the different pieces of the puzzle that together paint a picture of a huge extraterrestrial impact that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and three quarters of all other life on earth, 65 million years ago.

People interested in learning more about dinosaurs are invited to attend the free Junior Cafe presentation on Saturday, November 15, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) in Syracuse’s Armory Square. Walk-ins are welcome, but we ask that people RSVP by emailing jrcafe@tacny.org by November 12, 2014.


37784_paleo_people_image1_9_originalLinda Ivany is Professor of Earth Sciences at Syracuse University. She holds a PhD from Harvard University and was a Society Fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for 3 years before moving to Syracuse in 2000. Prof. Ivany’s research is in the fields of paleontology and paleoclimatology. She works mostly on marine fossils, and often uses their chemistry to understand life history, ecology, seasonality, and environment in Earth’s ancient past. Field research has taken her to Antarctica, Australia, and the US Gulf Coast, and her work is supported by the National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society. She has served as Member and President of the Board of Trustees for the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, and Councilor-at-Large for the Paleontological Society.

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique, a program for middle-school students founded in 2005, features discussions about topics in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an informal atmosphere and seeks to encourage students to consider careers in these areas. Students must be accompanied by an adult and can explore the MOST at no cost after the event.

Technology Alliance of Central New York

Founded in 1903 as the Technology Club of Syracuse, the nonprofit Technology Alliance of Central New York’s mission is to facilitate community awareness, appreciation, and education of technology; and to collaborate with like-minded organizations across Central New York.

For more information about TACNY, visit www.tacny.org.

Total Lunar Eclipse, Mars Just Past Opposition And A Very Early Observing Event At Baltimore Woods on April 15th

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

The next few weeks are busy ones for CNYO and amateur astronomers in general.

April 10th (just this morning)STEM Career Day At National Grid (image below)
April 15th (from midnight to 3:30ish)Total Lunar Eclipse & Mars Just Past Opposition
April 12th and 13thCNYO and New Moon Telescopes (NMT) At NEAF
April 19thMOST Climate Day (And CNYO Lecture)
April 24th – Seasonal Observing At Beaver Lake Nature Center


A piece of Mars, some meteors, several magnets, terrestrial rocks with larger meanings, four things we didn’t know “when I was their age,” and additional makings of a set of STEM astro demos.

But back to the eclipse and opposition. It is my opinion that lunar eclipses don’t get the respect they deserve. Yes, solar eclipses are much more exciting and it has been well-documented that people have previously responded very strongly (and not always pleasantly) to solar eclipses. The sudden darkening of the sky and noticeable temperature drop can cause all shades of responses (no pun intended) in people. That said, all we really get (besides a view of the solar corona) is an example of what happens when you put a black disc in front of the Sun. Lunar eclipses, on the other hand, tell us a bit about how the Earth itself interacts with the Sun by how this interaction alters our view of the Moon.

Both solar and lunar eclipses tell us something about the Sun/Earth/Moon relationship. Specifically, we learn that the Sun/Earth orbital plane (the oval made as the Earth goes around the Sun each year) and the Earth/Moon orbital plane (our local oval) are not the same – the Earth/Moon plane is tilted slightly off the Sun/Earth plane by 5.2 degrees (small, but just enough). That is, the Moon spends some time above and some times below the Sun/Earth orbital plane, while sitting right in the plane only two times each orbit (where the two planes intersect). How do we know this? Simple. If the Earth/Moon plane were exactly in the Sun/Earth plane, there would be a total solar eclipse and total lunar eclipse every month because there would be a time each month (New Moon) when the Sun, Moon, and Earth made a straight line (Sun-Moon-Earth = solar eclipse) and a time each month (Full Moon) when the Sun, Earth, and Moon made a straight line (Sun-Earth-Moon = lunar eclipse). As the two planes are slightly off, the New Moon is simply “off the radar” of most people because it can’t be seen during the daytime. The Full Moon, on the other hand, is brilliantly bright most of the time because it only infrequently enters the Earth’s shadow.

The image below shows this very nicely (and it’s always better to find and cite a good image than to have to roll your own). Give it a look for 30 seconds to make sure each of the four cases make sense to you.


The Sun/Earth and Earth/Moon orbital planes. Note the top and bottom orientations that are perfect for eclipses (and the left and right that are not). Image taken from www2.astro.psu.edu (from Chaisson & McMillan Publishing). Click for a larger view.

Total solar and lunar eclipses, then, occur on special, but periodic and predictable, occasions when the Moon finds itself exactly in the Sun/Earth plane. When it’s just ever-so-slightly off this plane AND still between the Sun and Earth (or still falls into the Earth’s shadow in the Sun-Earth-Moon arrangement), we get partial eclipses. Just that simple.


What to expect on April 15th (the government’s cashing in on its short wavelength tax!). Image from this article at io9.com.

Perhaps the most striking difference between a solar and lunar eclipse is that a solar eclipse obstructs the disc of the Sun, leaving only a view of its wispy exterior (corona), while a lunar eclipse alters the color of the Moon while still allowing us to see it in its entirety. Those watching the lunar eclipse will see the Moon go from its usual bright grey to orange, then a dark red before reversing the color order. The reason for this dark red coloring is the same reason why our sky is blue – the scattering of light in our atmosphere. Recalling our handy scattering relationship – that scattering (I) is proportional to 1 / wavelength4, we see that shorter wavelengths scatter more than longer wavelengths (because the wavelengths are in the bottom of the proportion, so larger numbers decrease the value of “I”). The image below was taken from one of the great non-wikipedia physics sites (well worth several afternoons to explore), hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu.


The scattering relationship. See hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/…/blusky.html for much, much more.

We see that shorter wavelength light gets “bounced around” more, while longer wavelength light passes for longer distances unimpeded by interactions with molecules and larger particles (like soot after big volcanic eruptions) in our atmosphere. Light going straight from the Sun hits our atmosphere and gets increasingly scattered as wavelength gets shorter – blue scatters more than red, so we see the blue strongly when we look up during the day. With the blue light strongly scattered, those people on the edges of where the Sun’s light falls – those just starting or ending their days – see more red light because that wavelength wasn’t as strongly scattered – effectively those at sunrise and sunset get the filtered-out leftovers of the light that those at high noon see as blue. The “lit” side of the world experiences a range of different colors depending on where they are during the day, but all are being illuminated by waves of light from the Sun that left at the same exact time (plus or minus a nanosecond or two).

Because it’s a busy week and the author is feeling lazy, he refers you to the top image of the three-panel image below, showing how the scattering of sunlight in our atmosphere occurs sooner after entry (on average) for blue, a bit later (on average) for green, then a bit later (on average) for yellow, then out to red, some of which is and isn’t scattered (on average).


The scattering of light by Earth’s atmosphere (shorter wavelengths scatter sooner). The other two images are placed into context by your reading about extrasolar planetary atmosphere studies. See www.universetoday.com/…-in-blue-light/ for that info.

And so, we know that blue is scattered strongly and red is not. This red light then races to the edges of our illuminated globe and the red light not scattered directly down to Earth or scattered in the opposite direction (out into space right above you) races past Earth at various altered (scattered) angles. During the most complete part of the lunar eclipse, the red color you see is, in fact, the red light that is passing through the edges of our atmosphere at those places experiencing sunrise and sunset (the sunlight performing a “grazing blow” of our atmosphere). As you might guess, if Earth were to lose its atmosphere (but don’t give any of your industrious friends any ideas), our lunar eclipses would appear quite different. Instead of a dark red Moon, we’d simply see a black disc where no stars shone (like placing a quarter at arms length and obscuring anything behind it).

This lunar eclipse just happens to coincide with another special event in our Solar System that just passed on April 8th – Mars at Opposition. Earth-centric oppositions occur when the Sun and a planet (from Mars out to Neptune, then dwarf planets, comets and asteroids also fit the description) are on opposite sides of the sky to one another (this cannot happen for Venus and Mercury to an observer standing on Earth – this also means that Earth is never “at opposition” for Mars). This necessarily means that, when this occurs, the Earth and that other object are as close as they will get for that Earth year. Because our orbits are not circular around the Sun, our distances at opposition do vary. The slightly outdated image below shows this difference of opposition distances for Mars from 1995 to 2001. August of 2003 was our closest approach (34 million miles) to Mars in roughly 60,000 years, making for some impressive views through even medium-sized scopes.


Mars distances at four oppositions. Image taken from the Hubble Space Telescope website. Click for a larger view.

What does this opposition mean for us? For those attending Baltimore Woods for Bob Piekiel’s special Lunar Eclipse observing session on the (really early) morning of April 15th (that is, we’ll be set up from 11:00 p.m. on the 14th and hanging out until it’s over), this means that Mars will be just a few days past its closest approach to Earth, making for especially good views through the scopes in attendance. Add Jupiter and Saturn over the course of the lunar eclipse, and we’ve a small feast of planetary observation for the evening. We hope you can join us!

IOTA Official Press Release: Best And Brightest Asteroid Occultation Ever To Be Visible Across New York State

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

Below is the official press release by the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) on the upcoming occultation of Regulus by asteroid Erigone on March 20th. CNYO will have more to announce about our efforts to monitor this occultation in the next week or two. Meantime, this is your one-month warning!

Public invited to help measure size and shape of distant asteroid

Media contact: Ted Blank, tedblank@gmail.com
Alternate contact: Steve Preston, stevepr@acm.org

Just after 2:05 a.m. EDT on March 20, 2014, anyone with clear skies along a 70-mile-wide belt running diagonally from Long Island and New York City up through New York State into Canada may be able to see the bright star Regulus simply disappear from the sky for up to 14 seconds as an invisible asteroid glides silently in front of it.

A chance alignment of orbits is predicted to cause Regulus to “wink out” as the mammoth asteroid Erigone passes directly between Earth and the star, temporarily blocking its light from reaching us (the asteroid itself remains in its normal orbit which never comes anywhere near Earth). Regulus (the star which will wink out) is in the constellation Leo the Lion and, as one of the brightest stars in the sky, is easy to find.

An event where an object in space blocks the light from a distant star is called an “occultation,” from the Latin word meaning “to conceal or hide.” The International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA), a group of volunteers, collects observations on about 200 asteroid occultations per year. However, this is the first time that such a dramatic and obvious occultation will be visible in such a heavily populated area without the need for any kind of optical aid like a telescope or binoculars.

What makes this asteroid event more notable is that the public is invited to assist scientists in recording the event to measure the size and shape of the asteroid. Just by using a video camcorder, a digital SLR camera with video capability, or just a smartphone or a stopwatch, anyone can contribute to the scientific study of the asteroid in question. “In addition to the opportunity to share in a moment of celestial drama, we hope to enlist thousands of ‘citizen-scientists’ to time this event, allowing us to document it more thoroughly than any other asteroid occultation in history” said Steve Preston, President of IOTA. “The more observers scattered across the path of the shadow who time the disappearance and reappearance of the star, the more accurately we can measure the asteroid’s size and shape.”

IOTA has created a “Frequently Asked Questions” page at www.occultations.org/Regulus2014. Here, detailed information may be found on the recommended techniques that the public may use to record and time the event, as well as how to submit their observations for analysis after the event.

Although the asteroid will remain a safe 100 million miles from Earth, as it passes in front of the star its 70-mile-wide shadow will sweep from southeast to northwest across Nassau and Suffolk counties, all five boroughs of New York City and the Hudson River Valley, with the center of the predicted shadow path following a line roughly connecting New York City, White Plains, Newburgh, Oneonta, Rome and Pulaski before crossing into Canada. See Illustration 1 for the current prediction of where the shadow will pass.


Ill. 1. Estimated path of the shadow of the asteroid Erigone during the occultation of Regulus on March 20, 2014. The green line represents the predicted center line of the ~50 mile wide asteroid shadow. The blue lines represent the width of the asteroid, where edges of the shadow would fall if the actual center of the shadow followed the green line. The red lines represent the uncertainty in the path, meaning that the actual shadow will most likely pass somewhere between the red lines. There is a smaller chance that one edge could be slightly outside one or the other of the red lines.

At the time of the occultation, Regulus will be about 40 degrees high in the southwest, or about half-way up from the horizon to a point straight overhead. Illustration 2 below is a “sky-map” showing the star’s location in the sky along with some convenient reference points to help get oriented.


Ill. 2. Finder chart for March 20, 2014, looking southwest. The red dot at the top represents the point directly overhead. Regulus will be approximately half-way up in the sky, at the bottom of the reversed “question mark” that makes up the “mane” of Leo the Lion. Saturn, the Moon, Mars and Jupiter are shown on this map in the positions they will occupy on this date, as are the twin stars of Gemini (Castor and Pollux) just above Jupiter.

To choose an observing location, members of the public can refer to Illustration 1 and select any place between the outer lines. Since the path the shadow will follow may change slightly, observers should check the online zoomable map at tinyurl.com/regulus2014map in the days before the event for any last-minute adjustments to the path prediction. Additionally, people situated as far as 10 path-widths on either side of the center line are encouraged to make an observation in case Erigone has a moon which might momentarily block the star’s light. Video recordings will be needed to confirm the fleeting disappearance that a tiny moon of Erigone might cause.

After the event, the public may report their timing observations at tinyurl.com/regulus2014report, including reports of a “miss,” or no occultation. “Both actual timings and ‘miss’ observations are extremely valuable,” said Preston. “Timings of the disappearance measure the asteroid’s diameter in the dimension along its orbital path, but ‘miss’ observations improve our understanding of how wide it is across its path. Furthermore, both types of reports improve our understanding of the asteroid’s orbit.”

Typically only a few observers see these types of events, allowing the diameter of the asteroid to be measured at just a few places. However, with a large number of observers, the opportunity exists to categorize the asteroid’s entire silhouette, as seen for asteroid (234) Barbara in Illustration 3 below.


Ill. 3. Outline of asteroid (234) Barbara obtained by multiple observers timing an occultation in 2009. The observers were spread out across an area over 40 miles wide. The horizontal white gaps in the solid lines represent the period of time when the asteroid blocked the light from the star for that observer. The gaps between the lines themselves represent the distance between observers on the ground. Each observer saw the star pass behind a slightly different portion of the asteroid, allowing the asteroid’s diameter to be measured at multiple locations. Note the large crater at the south end of the asteroid. This level of resolution is far greater than anything possible with ground-based telescopes, but more observers would have allowed even finer details to be measured.

Members of the public with additional questions should refer to the FAQ page at www.occultations.org/Regulus2014, email regulus2014@occultations.org or see the article in the March, 2014 issue of Sky and Telescope Magazine.

About IOTA

The International Occultation Timing Association, with its worldwide sister organizations in Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia/New Zealand, Japan, S. Asia/India, Mexico, Latin America and South Africa, provides free occultation predictions and planning and analysis software, sponsors online Internet discussion groups and publishes the Journal of Occultation Astronomy. The main IOTA webpage is www.occultations.org. The Yahoo discussion group can be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/IOTAoccultations/info and is open to all with an interest in this topic.

A PDF copy of an article from the March, 2014 issue of Sky and Telescope Magazine on the occultation is linked HERE. Permission to include this article has been granted by Sky and Telescope.

CNYO Brochure – A Guide To Meteor Showers

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

In preparation for upcoming 2013 lecture and observing sessions, we have put together instructional brochures to help introduce the Night Sky to attendees. The fourth of these, entitled “A Guide To Meteor Showers,” covers the whens and whys of meteor shower observing and is provided below in PDF format. This brochure will be available at our combined lecture/observing sessions, but feel free to bring your own paper copy (or the PDF on a tablet – but have red acetate ready!).

Download: A Guide To Meteor Showers (v4)

NOTE: These brochures are made better by your input. If you find a problem, have a question, or have a suggestion (bearing in mind these are being kept to one two-sided piece of paper), please contact CNYO at info@cnyo.org.



A Guide To Meteor Showers

The Year’s Notable Meteor Showers

A list of all 12 familiar meteor showers, their radiants, their origin, and their time of year.

Meteoroid, Meteor, Or Meteorite?

“One piece of interstellar debris, three different names that tell you something about the “state” of the object (1) as it exists in space, (2) as it slams into our atmosphere, and (3) as it hits the ground if it’s big enough to survive entry.”

A Lot From All Over – And Very Fast

“Meteor showers are the most predictable times to see debris falling from space, but an estimated 40 tons* of space dust falls on Earth EVERY DAY.”

Meteor Showers Vs. Random Meteors

“As you can’t predict their location or direction, you simply have to be looking at the right place at the right time!”

What’s In A Name?

“The meteor shower itself has nothing to do with the constellation or the stars, only the part of the sky that the constellation occupies on the late nights and early mornings when the meteor shower is visible.”

Clash Of The Tinys

“It is the Earth, revolving around the Sun at a dizzying 110,000 km/hour (that’s 30 km/second!), that powers the meteor shower we see on the ground.”

A Snapshot Of A Meteor Shower

“What we see as a meteor shower is actually surface material from a Solar System body!”

Preparing For A Meteor Shower

“A reclining chair or blanket – the best view is straight up, so save your back and clothes.”

For Much More Information…

“The peak times given in this brochure are only general estimates, as the best times for each shower vary by one or more days each year.”

NASA Space Place – It Takes More Than Warm Porridge To Make A Goldilocks Zone

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in November, 2012.

By Diane K. Fisher

2013february2_spaceplaceThe “Goldilocks Zone” describes the region of a solar system that is just the right distance from the star to make a cozy, comfy home for a life-supporting planet. It is a region that keeps the planet warm enough to have a liquid ocean, but not so warm that the ocean boils off into space. Obviously, Earth orbits the Sun in our solar system’s “Goldilocks Zone.”

But there are other conditions besides temperature that make our part of the solar system comfortable for life. Using infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, along with theoretical models and archival observations, Rebecca Martin, a NASA Sagan Fellow from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and astronomer Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, have published a new study suggesting that our solar system and our place in it is special in at least one other way.

This fortunate “just right” condition involves Jupiter and its effect on the asteroid belt.
Many other solar systems discovered in the past decade have giant gas planets in very tight orbits around their stars. Only 19 out of 520 solar systems studied have Jupiter-like planets in orbits beyond what is known as the “snow line”—the distance from the star at which it is cool enough for water (and ammonia and methane) to condense into ice. Scientists believe our Jupiter formed a bit farther away from the Sun than it is now. Although the giant planet has moved a little closer to the Sun, it is still beyond the snow line.

So why do we care where Jupiter hangs out? Well, the gravity of Jupiter, with its mass of 318 Earths, has a profound effect on everything in its region, including the asteroid belt. The asteroid belt is a region between Mars and Jupiter where millions of mostly rocky objects (some water-bearing) orbit. They range in size from dwarf planet Ceres at more than 600 miles in diameter to grains of dust. In the early solar system, asteroids (along with comets) could have been partly responsible for delivering water to fill the ocean of a young Earth. They could have also brought organic molecules to Earth, from which life eventually evolved.

Jupiter’s gravity keeps the asteroids pretty much in their place in the asteroid belt, and doesn’t let them accrete to form another planet. If Jupiter had moved inward through the asteroid belt toward the Sun, it would have scattered the asteroids in all directions before Earth had time to form. And no asteroid belt means no impacts on Earth, no water delivery, and maybe no life-starting molecules either. Asteroids may have also delivered such useful metals as gold, platinum, and iron to Earth’s crust.

But, if Jupiter had not migrated inward at all since it formed father away from the Sun, the asteroid belt would be totally undisturbed and would be a lot more dense with asteroids than it is now. In that case, Earth would have been blasted with a lot more asteroid impacts, and life may have never had a chance to take root.

The infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope contributes in unexpected ways in revealing and supporting new ideas and theories about our universe. Read more about this study and other Spitzer contributions at spitzer.caltech.edu. Kids can learn about infrared light and enjoy solving Spitzer image puzzles at spaceplace.nasa.gov/spitzer-slyder.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


Caption: Our solar system is represented by the middle scenario, where the gas giant planet has migrated inward, but still remains beyond the asteroid belt.

About NASA Space Place

The goal of the NASA Space Place is “to inform, inspire, and involve children in the excitement of science, technology, and space exploration.” More information is available at their website: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/